Former Emmerdale actress Charlie Hardwick unveiled the plaque to open Mental Health Services for Older People (MHSOP), a unit at North Tyneside General Hospital.
The Alzheimer’s Society celebrity supporter met patients, relatives and staff at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust’s purpose-built facility which brings together all inpatient services in one place and cares for patients living with various stages of dementia as well as other mental health illnesses such as anxiety, depression and challenging behaviour.
Specially-designed to suit the specific needs of patients, the bright and welcoming area – made up of three separate wards – completes the transformation of mental health services in the trust.
Charlie said: “Every single one of us may develop dementia, it does not discriminate between rich or poor, gender or colour, and the care we would wish for ourselves is the kind of care that should be provided for everyone.
“I’m very proud to be one of the Alzheimer’s Society’s celebrity supporters.
“Since working with the charity, I’ve come to appreciate the need for joined-up thinking and properly integrated care when it comes to looking after people with dementia and that’s precisely what North Tyneside General Hospital’s new £6m facility provides.
“It brings everything together in a purpose-built environment for those with dementia, as well as other mental health illnesses.”
Samantha Allen, matron for MHSOP at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “I have spent all my 30-year career caring for adults with mental illnesses and this has been the most rewarding part by far.
“Being involved in a vision to improve mental health services for older people in North Tyneside, and being able to bring that vision to life, has been the most uplifting of experiences.
“Now we’re in the new unit, to see the difference it’s making to patients and their families is absolutely fantastic.
“While we’ve always had good feedback regarding our care, we knew that our environment could be improved and we’re delighted that this has now happened.
The comments we’ve had since we moved into the new unit have been overwhelmingly positive.”
“Our aim at all times is to make life on the ward as normal as possible. Some of our patients can stay with us for many months and we want them to get up and dressed in the morning, come to the dining room for meals and to take part in activities with the unit encouraging that behaviour which can only be good news for patients.
Prior to the new unit opening in July, the trust’s mental health inpatient services were based in Ash Court, a ward on the North Tyneside hospital site, with Ward 19 and Tynemouth Court located in Hawkeys Lane in North Shields.
Dr Greig Ramsay, consultant psychiatrist and head of Northumbria Healthcare’s MHSOP, said: “The advantages of being in one location are immense. It’s important to recognise that we are looking after patients’ physical health alongside their mental health needs and from time to time they need procedures or diagnostic tests.
“Before the move, this would have meant bringing patients in a taxi so to be all together in the hospital makes it so much better for our patients.”
All of the patient rooms in the new unit have en-suite facilities with special facilities for patients who need help with bathing. Fixtures and fittings have been carefully chosen to prevent patients from possible harm.
Communal day rooms encourage patients to come together for meals and social activities and each ward – even the one upstairs – has a garden area for patients to enjoy the fresh air.
Northumbria Healthcare’s Bright charity has been working with staff from MHSOP to provide a range of dementia-friendly artwork for the new wards, part of the trust’s long-standing healing arts programme which uses art as a therapeutic medium to improve the hospital environment for patients, visitors and staff.
Alzheimer’s Society is the UK’s leading dementia support and research charity.
Hazel Cuthbertson, regional operations manager for Alzheimer’s Society in the North East, said: “What is crucial about this new facility is the person-centred approach that has been taken by Northumbria Healthcare.
“People living with dementia and their carers have clearly been listened to, with the result that we now have a truly integrated facility that has been shaped and formed by their thinking.”